Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tamron 90mm f2.8 Macro -- Non-Macro Photo Set

I am a big sucker for macro lenses.  At current count, I have three autofocus ones: Canon 180mm f3.5L, Canon 100mm f2.8L IS, and the Tamron 90mm f2.8, and there is a half dozen or so manual focus macro lenses.  I actually don't shoot a lot of pictures at macro range (1:1), but I like the very close focus capabilities of these lenses.  Besides, I haven't seen a really bad macro lens, yet!

I traded a few manual focus lenses that I hadn't used for this Tamron SP 90mm f2.8.  I used (and still have a broken one) one of the first version of Adaptall 90mm f2.5 briefly, also a fine lens, but the modern AF version is simply much better.  Extremely sharp, even at f2.8, and even at infinity, which the lens was not optimized for. No, it's not as good as the Canon 100mm f2.8L IS.  The sharpness of that lens is legendary, but the Tamron holds its own quite well, especially at less than half the price of the Canon.  True, the 100mm f2.8 has image stabilization, and is much better built.

One of the things I don't like about his lens is the focusing.  It's nothing like the EF 100mm f2.8L with its UltraSonic Motor (USM) for lightning fast and silent focus.  The Tamron is a lot noisier, slower, and less accurate.  Once in a while, I would get a picture not critically focused.  Not ruling out user error, though.

I think this lens is an excellent value, offering versatility from macro to portraiture, and 90mm is a very comfortable focal length for full frame as a short telephoto.  In fact, I am quite impressed by its image quality. If you overlook its plastic construction, occasional mis-focus (or user error, not sure), it's a great value.

All pictures below were taken with the Tamron SP 90mm f2.8 and Canon 5D Mark II.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Super Takumar 105mm f2.8 - Photo Set

In the hay days of manual film cameras, the 105mm focal length was quite popular, especially from the cheaper third party lens makers/resellers. Soligor, Sun, Hanimex are among them.  Pentax also had one in the M42 mount (they also made one for 6x7 medium format as well).  Despite the popularity of the 105mm focal length, the Pentax Takumar M42 version isn't as common.  Unfortunately, this is also one of my least liked Takumar lens.  I don't know why, but having had at least three copies of this lens, I never seemed to warm up to it.  The reason I still have one, is because it was cheap when I bought it, and I haven't sold a lens for a while.

The lens looks like the Takumar 135mm f3.5 and almost the same size as well.  The copy I have is not Super Multi-Coated, just Super Takumar so it doesn't have the famous multi-coating. This may explain why the lens has very severe colour fringing, especially green, in backlit and sometimes not even contrasty scenes. It's trivial to correct in Lightroom, but still, it's bothersome. The lens does not have very high contrast, properly designed like that as it's a portraiture lens.  It's also not very sharp until stopped down to around f5.6 to f8; again, this might be designed like this.  The other thing I don't like about this lens is the relatively long minimum focus distance of 1.2m.

Too bad I am not using this lens as a portraiture lens like it was designed for.  Still, it makes a nice short telephoto lens and is quite versatile.  The small size and the lightweight are nice. It also inherits the legendary build quality of the Takumar lenses and focuses butterly smooth.

And, you may like it more than I do.

The girl & her dog - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Lone Leaf - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8 with Yeenon Helicoid. Click for larger.

Park Bench - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Stairs - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Internal Gear Hub Revisited

I have been riding, on and off, the 4-speed bike that I put together about 3 months ago using the Shimano Inter-4 4-speed internal gear hub. Generally, I like it quite a bit, but at times, the gear ratio leaves me wanting. I know this sounds strange coming from a guy who rides a single speed bike most of the time, but when you are on a single speed bike, you don't think about shifting, and riding a bike with gear shifter, it's a different mindset.  

The Good:
"Silent" shifting
Simple and low maintenance
Gear ratio is good enough for most situations

The Bad:
More drag than normal wheel
Noisy when coasting
Trigger shifter sucks (er, sticks)
Coaster Brake is a real drag; engages far too easily
A nightmare to change a flat tire

As you can see, there are more bads than good.  So I have been looking for an alternative. Came across a very cheap, decades old Sturmey Archer 3-speed gear hub; installed it, works great, and less heavy than the Shimano 4-speed, and lower drag too.  Again, coasting is noisy, and even less gear ratio than the Shimano, and the trigger shifter was not designed for flat handlebar. I was able to make it work, but it's not elegant. More searching...

"New" 8-Speed Bike - Sony NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Enter the Shimano Nexus 8-speed Red Band. Like the Canon L lenses, this one came with a red band around it to differentiate itself from the normal Nexus 8-speed; it's a premium line, but below the top of the line Alfine hubs.  The hub, unfortunately, came with a wheel that's not the right size for me, not to mention the weird and uncommon 24 spoke holes.  Took me a little while to find the rim with 24-spokes, but I really prefer a double-walled rim.  Oh well, didn't want to wait so I laced it up.  This is the 4th wheel I have laced, but still can't master the skills of truing it longitudinally. I find it very hard to make the wheel round; a problem compounded by the lack of a wheel truing station.

Anyways, as imperfect as the wheel is, I mounted it on a more sturdy MASI single speed steel frame with horizontal dropout.  I had to get the yellow non-turn washer as the original was grey, for a slanted angle dropout.  It was not easy to find locally.

Shimano Nexus Red Band 8-Speed shifter - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Since I have decided to build a new commuter bike, and winter is coming, I was more careful about the components used. For the chain, I used a heavy gauge and heavy duty YBN-MK918 BMX/single speed chain.  I have been using this chain for a few years now and it's bomb proof, but more noisy than the SRAM PC-1 chain that I also use.  The cranks are Sugino VP with a 50t chainring. The front wheel is a Shimano with a DH-2N71 dynamo hub. The dynamo hub will eliminate the need to worry about batteries for the light. Front light uses a very bright single LED and I can turn it off if I don't need it on.  I had one light that had no switch, and used the halogen bulb and it wasn't bright enough and uses much more power and thus creates more drag for the dynamo hub.  LED dynamo lights used to be very hard to find, but now they are relatively common.  A search on eBay will give you lots of choices.

Shimano Dynamo Hub - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Still looking for an LED rear light that can be powered by the dynamo; there are lots of choices too, but I will decide after I get a bike rack and pannier. The rack has to provide mounting provision for a rear light. Unfortunately, the frame was not designed to take bike racks and fenders; an adapter needs to be made so that I can mount the rack on the hub axle.

The bike, even with a front dynamo hub engaged, runs smoother and less drag than the bike with the 4-speed hub.  In fact, this setup feels like riding a conventional derailleur bike, and I am very happy about.  The weight of the dynamo hub in the front balances the weight of the gear hub at the back, and the bike doesn't feel rear heavy and the overall weight is very manageable.

So far, my observations of the Nexus 8 hub:

The Good:
Very quiet shifting and coasting; almost like a normal wheel
very low drag
Adequate gear ratios (until I get hold of an 11 or 14 speed hub, haha)
Lighter than the Inter-4 4-speed hub and provides more gears

The Bad:
Expensive - ok this is relative. If you consider a good derailleur group set, the cost could be more.
Still more drag than a derailleur system
Gear shifter only comes with flat bar option; if you like drop bars, you will have to buy a third party shifter

Hopefully, this bike will get me through winter without giving me any troubles.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Nikon Df - A Take from a Non-Nikon User

The retro looking Nikon Df has generated a lot of interest, especially among Nikon users. As usual, some love it, some hate it, and some are indifferent. My feeling of the Df is that it's ugly. I had a few Nikon film bodies before, the cheap EM, the fabulous Nikomat FTM, and the controversial Nikon FA, but I like the look of the Nikon F3 the best.  Aesthetically, the Df to me is kind of a botched job, especially when view directly from the front. The proportion looks like someone put it on a vise and squeezed it from the sides, but it looks better from the top. The back looks just like any other digital SLR on the market.

I know the old timers love manual controls on the camera, and the Df has lots of it. I do question if the ISO dial is necessary. In the age of auto ISO, how useful is it to have a dedicated ISO dial? Personally, I set my ISO to Auto and never have to change it. Perhaps, the purpose is to slow you down and force you to take your time; same thing can be said about the shutter speed dial. This camera is definitely not created for operation speed. In a way, I guess it makes sense if it's targeted at the group of people who like to shoot their digital camera like a 1980s film camera.

The pricing of the camera is a surprise to me. Nikon has a tendency to price new niche cameras way too high. The Nikon 1 series comes to mind, and I think this one is overpriced for what it offers. No doubt many will pay for it purely for the look, but a D800 or a D610 is a better value.

I like the sensor in the Df. 16MP is a sensible solution that satisfies the majority of needs. I wish others will create a 16MP full frame sensor using today's technology. The low light performance would be phenomenal.

For me, I feel no love for the Df. Your mileage may vary.

Drums - Canon 5D Mark II & EF 135mm f2L @ f2. Click for larger.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bike Accessory Theft in Toronto

Within the last few months, I have lost two mud guards and today, someone removed the brake, complete with lever, from my bike. I only had the front brake on my bike and was riding on a freewheel single speed, and without a brake, it was not easy to ride home. I was, and still am, so freaking mad. The mud guards were stolen on rainy days, so that might have been impulsive, but removing the brake is clearly a planned theft. Frankly, I am more disappointed than angry, at how some of my fellow Torontonians have become. The bike was locked right in front of the video surveillance camera, but the low life thief just didn't care. I just shook my head in disbelief when they took my mud guards the second time, but removing the only brake from someone's bike is downright inconsiderate and dangerous.

I guess the only option is to ride an ugly beat-up bike so worthless that nobody wants to take it for free.


Rain drops on maple leaf -  Sony NEX-6 & Taylor-Hobson 75mm f2 TV Lens. Click for larger.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Few Thoughts about Sony's New Products

Sony maybe a giant in the electronics and broadcast TV industry, but they are an underdog when it comes to interchangeable lens cameras. While the giants are becoming complacent, iterating their product lines with minor changes and call them new products, Sony is truly creating new and unique products or product niches. This may sound funny coming from a long time Canon user, but I am not a Sony fanboy. I use products that meet my needs and budget and at the moment, Sony products are the best match for my needs right now.

The RX series are brilliant ideas. Certainly not a new category, but Sony combines great sensor technology with very good optics and body design that is appealing and desirable. If I want good quality and pocketability, I would go for the RX-100/RX-100II; if I were rich, I wouldn't think twice buying an RX-1/RX-1R; if I were a serious enthusiast who demands great image quality and optical performance, I would get an RX-10.  In fact, despite the high price, I think Sony will sell a lot of the RX-10s; the zoom range and constant f2.8 aperture of the lens on this camera is simply too good to resist. If I were not a lens slave, the RX10 would satisfy 99% of my photography needs and in the long run, saves me tons of money buying mediocre lenses that most people would buy for their low end cameras, like the 55-200mm f4-5.6.

But my desirable camera is the A7/A7r. The A7/A7r may not appeal to some, especially those who only want to use it with auto focus lenses. The auto focus lens selection is a bit limited at the moment, but the two prime Zeiss lenses are exceptionally good, though pricy. To a lens whore who has lenses in many mounts, the A7/A7r is like a wet dream. Like everyone else, I realize there are issues with ultra wide angle rangefinder manual focus lenses which exhibits colour shift and severe vignetting. It's totally a non-issue for me.  I don't own any wide angle range finder lenses. The widest I have is the 40mm f1.4 Voitglander Nokton. Most of my lenses are in reflex mounts, like Canon FD, Minolta MC/MD, and of course EF mounts. The A7/A7r can use all of them through adapters; exactly what I am doing with my NEX-6, except now all the lenses will see the light as they were designed with no cropping.

Exciting times.

Downtown Toronto - Sigmarit 30mm f2.8 @ f8 & Sony NEX-6. Click for larger.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Autumn is my favourite season and I usually take a lot of pictures, but not this year.  Seeing that the colours of the trees are quickly changing, and the weather is getting colder, I know if I don't go out and take some pictures of fall colours, that would be it this year.

I like to use long lenses to shoot the fall and the at wide apertures, because I like the look of the bokeh. The Canon 200mm f1.8L would have been great for this, but it's semi-dead; I can take pictures with it, but it would not focus. Then I thought about the Kinoptik 210mm f2.8 Speciale Cine and it's beautiful rendering, I thought it would be a good lens to use.  I was not disappointed.

There is something about the cinematic lenses that renders pictures so beautifully that I like a lot. If it were not so large and heavy, I would have used it far more often.

All pictures below were taken with the Canon 5D Mark II & Kinoptik 210mm f2.8 Speciale Cine.